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Russian Bill Barring Navalny Associates From Running In Elections Passed

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A demonstrator holds up a sign reading "Today they kill Navalny, tomorrow they kill me" during a rally in support of the jailed opposition leader in Moscow on April 21.

Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, has approved a bill that would ban supporters and members of organizations designated as "extremist" from being elected to any post -- a move making it virtually impossible for anyone connected to jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny to gain public office.

Under the draft bill approved on June 2 by the chamber, leaders and founders of organizations declared extremist or terrorist by Russia's courts will be banned from running for elected posts for a period of five years.

Other members or employees of such organizations will face a three-year ban.

The legislation still requires President Vladimir Putin's signature, which is widely expected.

The measure appears to be a thinly veiled attempt at neutralizing Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which the authorities are seeking to have declared an "extremist" group ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

The FBK has already been declared a "foreign agent," a punitive designation under a separate law.

The law appears to be retroactively applicable, since it only involves restricting a person's rights, legal analysts say.

As the Russian authorities' moves threaten to make donations to the FBK illegal, a close Navalny associate told supporters to move to using cryptocurrencies to help fund their cause.

"The movement of money within the Russian banking system is clear and transparent to the Russian state, and therefore you and I need to get away from it," Leonid Volkov, who is based abroad, said in a video posted on YouTube.

"Since the state is squeezing us out of simple and understandable collection of donations through the normal banking system, it means we will patiently teach everyone to use cryptocurrencies, and we will learn ourselves.”

Russian authorities have ramped up their pressure on dissent ahead of a the September elections, with opinion polls showing support for the ruling United Russia party around the lowest levels ever.

Navalny's regional headquarters have been instrumental in implementing a "smart voting" strategy designed to promote candidates who are most likely to defeat those from United Russia in various elections.

Navalny, Putin's most vocal critic, is currently serving a prison sentence on embezzlement charges that he says were trumped up because of his political activity.

The 44-year-old has been in custody since January, when he returned to Russia following weeks of medical treatment in Germany for a nerve-agent poisoning in August that he says was carried out by operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) at the behest of Putin. The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning.

Since his jailing, the Kremlin has stepped up its campaign against Navalny and his associates, many of whom have fled the country in fear of being arrested.

With reporting by Reuters
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